Davies, Ch. 4, Varieties of Art



          a.       Ontology: Study of the matter, mode or manner in which things exist

          b.       Art exists in a variety of forms and manners (has a diverse ontology)

          c.       Examples:

                    i.        How long do artworks exists? Compare spontaneous jazz improvisation that exists for a limited time with a painting that persist and can be experienced on different occasions

                    ii.       Is the artwork in rock music a recording or a performance?

                    iii.      Is the hip-hop DJ who scratches and samples other’s recordings creating artworks in the process of appropriating others while the person who puts cd into stereo system does not?

                    iv.      Question 4.4: Jean Tinguely's Homage to New York of 1960 Photo

                              (1)     What is the artwork here?

                              (2)     The sculpture, the event of its destruction, the film of the event? 

2.       Davies’ defends ontological contextualism:

          a.       Artwork’s identity and contents generated in part by relations it holds to aspects of socio-historical setting in which it was created

                    i.        History of production important to artworks identity

          b.       But later contexts do not affect it

                    i.        How an artwork is interpreted or understood later can’t affect its fundamental characteristics or identity

                    ii.       Artworks do not change over time in response to ongoing interpretation and reception



4.       Davies rejects idea artworks are abstract/formal patterns (eternal and indestructible) that are discovered and not created

5.       Rejects this “ontological Platonism”

          a.       Artworks as purely formal patterns, distinct from the physical items or events in which they are exemplified

          b.       Examples

          c.       The square: An abstract/formal pattern that can be neither created nor destroyed but can be (and was) discovered and exemplified

          d.       If music abstract formal pattern, then Beethoven drew attention to certain note-sequences when he composed his 5th symphony, but the pattern (which is the artwork) pre-existed his efforts

                    i.        He discovered the artwork, not created it

                    ii.       If all copies of score destroyed (along with everything else from which we could get an accurate copy )

                    iii.      We lost our access to the work, but its existence remains unaffected

6.       Davies criticism of ontological Platonism

          a.       If someone destroys a sculpture (or all instances of a cast sculpture and the molds), we don’t think of him as hiding the artwork from us

                    i.        Very different from private collector who denies access to artwork by keeping it locked in vault

          b.       Mona Lisa is not a abstract pattern, because

                    i.        If someone destroys Mona Lisa, the problem is not that we have lost contact with the abstract pattern it exemplifies, for there are thousands of prints of that pattern

          c.       Platonism clearly does not apply to sculpture or painting


7.       Ontological contextualism (artworks’ history of production matters) is incompatible with ontological platonism (that artworks are solely abstract patterns)

          a.       If artworks are solely abstract patterns, then as long as the pattern is instantiated, we have the artwork and so the pattern’s history, origin or context does not matter

                    i.        Same pattern could have been produced by a different history of production

          b.       When we accept that artworks depend for identity and content on relations to art-historical and wider context in which produced (note: not context in which appreciated!), can’t be understood as mere abstract formal patterns

          c.       The formal patterns they present matter to their identity, but that is not the only dimension

          d.       Other relevant factors to its identity include:

                    i.        Genre, style, medium, creator’s intentions, relation of work to other works of artists, art-historical setting in which originated and to wider social/political environment



          a.       Davies argues that some artworks are singular and others can have many incarnations

9.       Two kinds of art works:

          a.       Works than can have multiple instances

                    i.        Novels, symphonies, cast statues, prints, poems, movies

                              (1)     Each of us can have a copy of same poem

          b.       Singular pieces (can’t have multiple instances)

                    i.        Oil paintings and sculpted statues

10.     Some argue that even statues and oil paintings are (potentially) multiple

          a.       If we could make identical copy of Mona Lisa, should not care if original destroyed

          b.       What we value is the form which can be instantiated in multiple ways

11.     Davies reply: Some artworks, like people, are singular, and so an identical copy is not the same

          a.       If you could clone our children or spouse, we would still want the original

          b.       History and origin matter to identity, and the copies/clones have different origin

          c.       Copy of Michelangelo’s David in piazza near the building in which the original is housed; To see it is not to see David

12.     Manner and matter of production important (not just abstract form)

          a.       Manner: Important differences between perceptual equivalent sound played by a trumpet versus sound played by pushing a button on preprogramed synthesizer

          b.       Matter: What a work is made of is important (not just abstract patterns)

                    i.        Sandy Skoglund used 80 pounds of raw hamburger meat as medium for Spirituality in the Flesh a portrait of a seated woman

                    ii.       Damien Hirst created works that contain dying butterflies and rotting meat

                    iii.      Question 4.3: Damien Hirst’s sheep cut in half and suspended in formaldehyde was vandalized (ink thrown into the tank) and instead of simply putting another half sheep in a tank, they tried to restore it which was more difficult and expensive

13.     How similar copies of multiple artworks must be to be faithful instances of the artwork? (It depends)

          a.       Two copies of novels or movies need be very similar (same word order and same visual appearance)

          b.       Performances can vary widely and be fully faithful

                    i.        Two performances of King Lear or Beethoven’s 5th symphony

                    ii.       Work leaves open some details (vague in parts)

                    iii.      Designed to be interpreted

                    iv.      More than one way to legitimately fill them out (such works are "thin" in constitutive detail, as opposed to others that are “thick")


14.     Faithful reproduction or interpretative performance?

          a.       Is it okay for pop stars whose studio CDs used electronic intervention to

                    i.        Lip sink their performances?

                    ii.       Rely on backup singers (for disc was multi tracked)?

                    iii.      If one hears a singer whose CDs one knows by heart and she/he doesn’t sound like the CD. Disappointing? Would it be better is she mimed her CD?

          b.       If opera star does not sing all the parts she cheats

          c.       One an instance of a recording, the other interpretive performance?



16.     Davies argues art-historical context of creation affects artwork’s identity

          a.       If two perceptually identical artworks differ in this regard, they are not the same artwork

17.     Does artwork’s context continue to affect its identity after its creation, so that it remains self-identical, yet crucially altered

          a.       Do artworks have an evolving identity?

                    i.        Like a given person, young and blond and later old and bald

          b.       Margolis yes

          c.       Davies no (with a very few exceptions)

                    i.        Exception: if gardens are artworks, they do have an evolving identity as they are intended to change with growth of flowers and seasons

          d.       Some argue that artworks are not self-identical over time as new interpretations change their identity completely!

18.     Davies believes (for most part) identity of artwork fixed when created and do not evolve over time

          a.       Most importantly, new interpretations and new meanings for audiences don’t change the artwork (in any important way)

          b.       What about Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64?"



19.     Consider physical changes in artworks

          a.       Michelangelo’s ceiling and Judgement Wall in Sistine Chapel

          b.       Completed in 1512

          c.       Clothing painted over the loins of many naked figures at a later date

          d.       Centuries of candle smoke and pollution darkened the ceiling

          e.       Work cleaned at close of 20th century

          f.       Critics questioned long accepted idea that it was Titian who was master of color and Michelangelo master of form (because the colors were so powerful after cleaning)

          g.       Would Davies say that these artworks have not changed in significant ways?

          h.       Yes? Artwork not changed its identity, but these changes may make it difficult/impossible for present audiences to see it as artist’s contemporaries did


20.     Changes in artwork not important to its identity (according to Davies)

                    i.        Artworks acquire new properties over time but none (of the below) are crucial to its identity or involve significant alterations

          b.       Older

          c.       More influential

          d.       Interpreted in new ways

          e.       Thought about by different people

          f.       Banned, neglected

                    i.        That an artwork was banned in later times might be crucial information to our understanding of it?

          g.       Water stained

          h.       Digitized

          i.        Sent into space

          j.        Existed when the President of China sneezed

          k.       Fetch millions at an auction

          l.        Culmination of a stylistic tradition

          m.      Last of its kind

                    i.        That an individual of an endangered species gets special value suggests that properties crucial to its identity are changed

                    ii.       True also of artworks?

21.     Davies: None of the above changes seem central to its identity, in way in which its creator, genre, time of creation and content are


22.     Changes can make it very difficult for us to appreciate the work as audiences did when created

          a.       E.g., Viewing Mona Lisa, hard to forget that it is most reproduced art image in history, worth a fortune, once shot at

          b.       But these new properties don’t alter factors crucial to its identity

23.     According to Davies: All properties of artwork crucial to its identity are fixed when it is created (including fixed by relational properties of context of creation)


24.     Davies allows that significance of a work can be affected by its later treatment and reception (interpretation)

          a.       But this does not affect its meaning, content, identity

          b.       An artwork’s significance (is “what we make of its meaning given our values and concerns”)

          c.       What determines the meaning of an artwork? Not significance to latter audiences? To audiences when produced? To artist and art experts when produced?

          d.       Why can’t meaning (and therefore content) of a work be different when the audience changes over time, so the work changes?



25.     Davies worries about trilogy counterexample

          a.       A book is finished

          b.       Later the author decides its part of a trilogy and writes the following two books

          c.       This seems like a case were later events effect identity of the earlier book

          d.       Davies argues that it’s a case of making a mistake about when the first book was completed

                    i.        I guess he’s saying the first book is not completed until the later books are written

          e.       Consider Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the character of Bilbo Baggins

                    i.        Altered by the Fellowship of the Ring Trilogy?

                    ii.       Altered by the movies?



27.     James Young defense of colorization

          a.       A transcription of the original

                    i.        Transcription: work that is new by virtue of how its medium differs from its source (but retains a close connection to and reflects on its model)

                    ii.       E.g., Bach piece electronically synthesized

          b.       It is a movie of a movie, like a movie of a play or movie of a novel

          c.       Colorized movie is a new and separate work

                    i.        Just as Duchmap took image of Mona Lisa and created LHOOQ (a new and separate work)

                    ii.       Colorizer takes images of old movie and makes a new one

          d.       Colorization is not destructive of original

                    i.        Like the Duchamp case, original work not damaged

                    ii.       Differs from other examples of making new works from old

                    iii.      Robert Rauschenberg created Erased de Kooning by erasing a line drawing by older and then more famous artist

                    iv.      Might object to creation that involves destruction of another artwork especially when the result is of lower merit

28.     Arguments against colorization

          a.       Even if new and separate work is created, harms still occur

                              (1)     Availability of black and white is likely to be reduced

                              (2)     Disrespect shown to original artist

                                         (a)     Forgive Duchamp his cheek, given wittiness of his work and how far removed Leonardo is from us

                                         (b)     Colorizers are not artistically clever and driven by profit

          b.       Colorized print is a defaced version of original; not a new and separate piece

                    i.        Colorization is messing around with the work, not creating a new one

                    ii.       Colorization alters movie for the worse (like scratches on film), but does not change it enough to undermine its identity as an instance of original work

29.     Does the change due to colorization produce a new work or merely a version of the old one?

          a.       Is the absence of color essential to preservation of movie’s identity

                    i.        If it is, colorized movie is a different piece

                              (1)     So a new and derivative work

                    ii.       If it is not, colorized movie is a version or print of original

                              (1)     A defective version, just as a scratched version is

                              (2)     Might also argue improved version???

          b.       Some films absence of color is part of what makes it the movie what it is

                    i.        Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull and Woody Allen’s Manhattan deliberately rejected option of color

                              (1)     So probably its absence reflects works identity

                              (2)     So colorizing these films can’t be criticized as messing with a given work for they are creating a wholly new one

                                         (a)     Seems strange that when absence of color defines a movie and is essential to the work, colorization is less problematic in one respect (can’t be charged with messing with the work)

                    ii.       For earlier films where no choice besides black and white we can’t so easily conclude that absence of color was part of work’s identity

                    iii.      Only if black and white medium affects the works content does lack of color affect its identity

                    iv.      Ansel Adams's photography essentially black and white?

30.     Changes in color can affect a film’s mood and mood is part of content

          a.       Colored print is less stark and somber in emotional feel than black and white original

          b.       But colorized print can be seen as a performance interpretation and these can have different moods while still being instances of a work

31.     Davies summary of views on colorization

          a.       Reject defense of movie colorization that argues it results in new work; rather we have a version of the original film

          b.       Do these changes disfigure original (and does it matter)?

          c.       All relevant factors

                    i.        Is it a movie that claims to be an artwork or not?

                    ii.       Does it impact availability of B/W version?

                    iii.      How impact audiences appreciation of history of cinema?

                    iv.      Motives of movie-makers and colorizers

                    v.       Consider toleration we show to adaptations of movies for screening on TV

Study questions for Davies, Ch 4: Varieties of Art


1.         What does Davies mean by “ontological contextualism,” “ontological idealism,” and “ontological Platonism?” Which view does Davies hold and why?

2.         What are Davies arguments against ontological Platonism, that is, the view that artworks are abstract formal patterns (like “the square”) that can neither be created nor destroyed?

3.         Davies argues that there are two (ontological) kinds of artworks: works that can have multiple instances and singular pieces. Give examples of each and explain how they are examples of these kinds.

4.         If we could make an identical copy of the Mona Lisa, should we care if the original was destroyed? What does Davies say about this? Hint: Consider his ontological contextualism. What do you think?

5.         Does Davies believes that artworks change in important ways when they are given new interpretations and new meanings by audiences? That is, does the work’s changing context continue to affect its identity after it has been created?

6.         List four or so (changing) contextual features of an artwork that don’t affect its identity and content (according to Davies). Now mention contextual (or relational) factors Davies does think are central to the identity of artworks.

7.         Davies thinks that all properties of an artwork crucial to its identity are fixed when it is created. Explain how the existence of literary trilogies (like Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit) support or cause trouble for this view.

8.         According to Davies, does colorizing a movie involve “messing around with a given artwork” or does it involve creating a new artwork? Use examples to discuss this issue.